Véronique Bockstal about the impact of work fashion and the challenges of female founders
Véronique started her career in the financial world, as a bank director and investment adviser. After 7 years, she made her first career switch and started working in marketing and communication in ICT. Thereafter, she slowly made the transition to entrepreneurship by as a freelance for 15 years. In 2014, she stepped into entrepreneurship and started her own company Weatless and More, an online wholesaler of allergen-free food, which she has sold.
She discovered by herself and female entrepreneurs around her barriers women face in entrepreneurship. Fascinated by the differences between male and female entrepreneurs, she started researching and discovered worldwide problems. Everywhere, there were fewer female entrepreneurs, they had smaller companies, they raised less capital and they were less likely to recruit. Her research and findings gave rise to a new mission: to help entrepreneurs scale to a turnover of €1 million.
She expresses this mission through the female founders accelerator program at UCLL Hogeschool where she is also a lecturer and researcher, through her own new start-up outgrow and more recently, through her book "De vrouw van 1 miljoen".
Growing to a turnover of 1 000 000 requires the right mindset, extra people and extra resources, but is work fashion also a pillar that can support women in their professional challenges?
You have to claim your position through your appearance. You can undermine or strengthen your position by what you wear.
Véronique's definition of Work Fashion
For me, work fashion is generally adjusting your outfit to the work environment you work in or the occasion. This can vary from sector to sector and from company to company. In a company, the tone of work fashion is often set by the management. Within that framework, you can set accents according to your own style. You have the choice to blend in or stand out. Besides clothing, your attitude, behaviour and language are also important.
My own work fashion is determined by my schedule. When I'm teaching, I'm to a certain level in a position of authority and do I try to reflect authority. In that case, I use more power dressing than during a meeting for my company. As a woman in front of a class, I am also a role model for the young women. I want to show that you can take on a leadership role as a women without being defined as a bitch, which unfortunately is still associated with women taking on leadership roles. When I have to speak about my book, I also take into account the setting and the size of the group.
The impact of work fashion
My mother - who is a real fashionista, just like my daughter - always emphasised the importance of a good appearance. My mother always said that clothes and your appearance are going to help you in your career, so you have to pay attention to it. I have always carried that with me. I did not really experience consciously the impact, at least not at the time. I think you will experience the opposite. If you dress inappropriately, you will miss out on things.
Yet the impact of clothing is still underestimated and too little attention is paid to it within professional circles and among the younger generation. You make an impression, whether you want to or not and whether you are aware of it or not. The impression is the first thing we notice and take into account. Besides, it is more than the first impression. You are constantly making an impression as well.
Moreover, the way I dress definitely has an impact on how I feel and perform. I perform differently when I'm sportily dressed behind my laptop than when I'm dressed up. Depending on what I have to do, I adjust my outfit accordingly.
Female founders and their challenges
We are not talking about hundreds of years since a woman entered the business world. I see changes, but very slowly. We - women - have managed to find our place, but we are still not 100% comfortable with it. We set a very high standard for ourselves. We are still not ready for the "good enough".
Besides the right mindset, extra people and extra resources, I think fashion definitely deserves a place as the 4th pillar. As a founder, you have to deal with various partners who all expect something from you. You have to claim your position through your appearance. You can undermine or strengthen your position by what you wear. For example, you can set the standard for your employees and reflect what you expect. Your appearance will also play a role in negotiations. You just can't separate your appearance from what you are doing or want to achieve.
It is important that female founders are aware of the challenges. In fact, the challenges are still the same: the glass cealing (women still face barriers to get to higher positions), work life balance and showing yourself despite self-limiting beliefs.
Therefore, role models are very important. You can't be what you can't see. I've had that in my life as well: mirroring people and looking up to them. If you don't have role models around you, it becomes difficult. That's why it's just as important that women show up.
The academic industry
Students in general are very sportive dressed. Among lecturers, I see a difference between those who are only lecturers and choose to dress more informally and those who have other activities such as being an entrepreneur.
Compared to the past, there was more of a distance between students and lecturers. Today, there is none. I myself find it difficult to find the balance between the role of assessor during exams on the one hand and being accessible as a lecturer on the other.
When it comes to work fashion, I hope that students will make a difference between their work environment and private activities. That they will step into the workforce and will show respect for their work environment and themselves by what they are going to wear and how they are going to behave.
Of course, a lot depends on those who now hold management and leadership positions. They may already be making different and milder judgements. A lot also depends on the environment. There is nothing wrong with being casual. It is about a good appearance, adapted to the work environment you are working in. And that work environment is changing, so casual may even become more common.